The Supreme Court on Monday seemed more displeased than usual with the lower court rulings it vacated, noting in its cases on social media content moderation policies and former President Donald Trump’s presidential immunity claims that past rulings weren’t thorough enough.

The decisions explained what the lower courts did wrong and offered guidance on what those courts should do next. But they left many urgent questions unanswered, which is why some court watchers are as frustrated with the justices as the justices seemed to be with the lower courts.

Supreme Court punts Trump’s presidential immunity case back to lower court

Monday’s Supreme Court rulings

In the presidential immunity case, the majority said the lower courts should have spent more time weighing which decisions made by Trump should count as “official acts.” Judges chose the wrong response to the gravity of the situation, Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to say.

  • “Despite the unprecedented nature of this case, and the very significant constitutional questions that it raises, the lower courts rendered their decisions on a highly expedited basis,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

In a consolidated ruling on a pair of social media cases, all nine justices agreed that lower courts had based their rulings on the wrong concepts and need to now do a more “proper analysis.”

  • “A court must determine a law’s full set of applications, evaluate which are constitutional and which are not, and compare the one to the other. Neither court performed that necessary inquiry. To do that right, of course, a court must understand what kind of government actions the First Amendment prohibits. We therefore set out the relevant constitutional principles, and explain how one of the Courts of Appeals failed to follow them,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan for the majority in the social media cases.

While it’s not surprising for the Supreme Court to base a decision on something a lower court did wrong, Monday’s decisions stood out because of the nature of the cases they came in.

Trump v. United States, Moody v. Netchoice and Netchoice v. Paxton were among the most closely watched of the term, since politicians on both sides of the aisle were awaiting guidance on whether the election interference case against Trump could proceed and on what options lawmakers have to regulate social media companies.

Instead of building its opinions around new, clear answers, the Supreme Court focused its rulings on why the lower courts’ answers were wrong and provided detailed instructions on how those lower courts should proceed.


In doing so, it guaranteed that court watchers will have to wait at least until later this summer for further developments in the cases and even longer for the Supreme Court to weigh in on the issues again.

Takeaways from the Supreme Court term

The new rulings call to mind similar decisions from earlier in June, when the court based its rulings on an abortion pill and social media censorship on standing and classified a major abortion case as “improvidently granted” — declining to rule on the merits in all three.

While the Supreme Court term as a whole was still quite consequential — the justices overturned the 40-year-old Chevron doctrine, for one thing — it didn’t turn out to be nearly as consequential as it was expected to be.

Now, the Supreme Court is headed into its annual summer vacation and, after releasing a list of orders on Tuesday, will not have any more updates until the fall.

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